Babel (Soundtrack Review)

Babel is the latest film from Alejandro Gonz¡lez I±¡rritu. It is the story of how four different groups of people on three different continents impact each others lives while never actually crossing paths. It is the final film of I±¡rritu’s trilogy of fatalistic films. The first two being Amores Perros and 21 Grams.

Babel takes the intersection of people to the global scale. While 21 Grams dealt with these crossings on a much more personal level, the same sort of thing can be applied to the world at large. The end result is a film that is epic in scope, but with a much more intimate feel. The soundtrack is no different. It captures the sounds of world music and blends it together into a concoction that has an odd sort of flow to it, as if it belongs together while not actually being together. The two disk set is a snapshot of the music the world round coming together in a bizarre sort of harmony.

This set presents the score interspersed with soundtrack, a collision of two schools of movie music thought. Gernerally a score and a soundtrack are two different things with two different ends in mind. I±¡rritu, acting as executive producer, seeks to stretch those thought processes and twist them into one vision. By bringing the score and soundtrack together, the release mirrors the events of the film. If you separate one from the other the aura is changed and the point is lost.

The score was written by Gustavo Santaollala, who won an Oscar for his work on Brokeback Mountain last year. That is a score that I loathe, the film was quite good, but I found the music to be repetitive and dull. With that taste still in my mouth, I hesitantly approached this release. Fortunately, I found his work here to be much stronger. I am not familiar with any of his other work (which includes both of the previously mentioned I±¡rritu films), but he has a very simple style, mellow and sparsely arranged, the opposite of the usual orchestral score. To the point of authenticity, Santaollala taught himself to play the oud, an Arab lute, that is dedication to the craft!

The album brings together many unfamiliar names, including Chavelo Vargas, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Rip Slyme, and Los Incomparables and placed them alongside the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire, and Fatboy Slim. It is an interesting mix, sliding you between the morose Santaollal compositions to electronic club beats, to Mexican stylings. Taken individually, I doubt that I would listen to any of them individually, not meant as an insult, just that the music is out of my usual haunts. When taken together they create this world tapestry where the music makes a single voice, narrating a journey through sound.

Bottomline. This is a good soundtrack, something that is as epic as the film from which it comes, yet remains accessible. With all of the world locations and the interlaced stories, the music could just as easily have been a collection of stock music reminiscent of a travelogue. This strives for something more, it may not be among my favorites, but it is definitely a hefty piece. This is not an album that you can put on and pick the pieces out, it is meant to be taken as a whole, either you will enjoy it or you won’t. I do.

Final Grade: A